Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen, including Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs and May’s Commons statement announcing retaliation against Russia after the Russian spy attack
Corbyn’s spokesman has been briefing journalists. According to lobby correspondents at the briefing, the spokesman made it clear that Corbyn does not accept the government’s claim that the Russian government was definitely to blame for the Salisbury attack.
Asked why Corbyn did not explicitly condemn Russia, his spokesman says: “Clearly whoever carried out the attack is responsible for what was a completely heinous and reckless act.”
Big development. Corbyn spksman suggests that Corbyn wants evidence before apportionment of culpability to Russia state. Adds UK has ” history” of weapons of mass destruction intelligence not being accurate.
It gets worse. Corbyn’s spokesman clarifies he does not believe there is proof yet that Russia is responsible for #Salisbury – and MI5/MI6 may be wrong: “There is a history between WMDs and intelligence which is problematic, to put it mildly”.
Carwyn Jones, the Labour Welsh first minister, has tweeted his support for what May said. Jones seems to be distancing himself from Corbyn’s response to the May statement.
Fully support the @10DowningStreet statement and proposed actions today. Appalling acts like these cannot be tolerated. A robust and proportionate response is the right call
This is from Peter Ricketts, a former head of the Foreign Office and the government’s former national security adviser.
PM statement strong and clear, with range of measures much as expected. Key now will be whether other allies accept our case that this is not just a U.K.-Russia row but a matter of direct national security concern to them, and that this is reflected in their treatment of Russia https://t.co/FCXBMXqoed
Christopher Chope, a Conservative, says what Russia did is incompatible with its membership of the Council of Europe. Will the UK get it expelled?
May says it is not just up to the UK. But Chope has a good point. MPs who are members of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly should make that argument, she says.
May says she will return to the Commons to make a further statement if it decides to take further retaliatory measures.
Mark Francois, a Conservative, says May’s statement “in some ways had flashes of the iron lady” about it. He describes Corbyn as “a CND-wearing apologist for the Russian state”.
May points out that many Labour MPs have backed what she said.
John Baron, a Conservative, says now is the time for a fundamental reassessment of defence spending.
May says the UK is one of the few countries spending 2% of GDP on defence. Defence spending is under review, she says. But she says the government will respond to threats in ways that don’t always involve conventional defence activity.
Labour’s Luciana Berger asks May if she thinks senior FA officials should stay away from the World Cup.
May says that is a matter for them. But they will have heard her statement, and they will want to consider their position, she says.
Maggie Throup, a Conservative, asks if the government will regularly update its travel advice for people travelling to Russia.
May says the government will do that. She says that at the moment the travel advice has not changed.
Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader who is generally more sympathetic to Putin (a fellow nationalist) than most British politicians, has backed May’s actions.
Mrs May has acted, quite rightly, against Russia. Not that it will make any difference.
Pat McFadden, the Labour MP, says it is important for the opposition to show strength and resolve when the country is under threat. There is a tradition in the Labour party that understands that, he says – clearly implying that Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t.
May agrees. She says she accepts there is a strong tradition in the Labour party that recognises the importance of acting in the national interest.
Here is Mark Urban, Newsnight’s diplomatic editor, on May’s statement.
Maybe not as harsh as many were expecting – tho PM is keeping certain retaliatory options. The offer @opcw to allow them to independently verify the Salisbury investigation also worth flagging up https://t.co/4SD6S3Rv6T
My take: the UK response to #Skripal poisoning modest. Putin now certain to expel 23 British diplomats from Moscow, with additional punitive measures entirely possible + not much clarity on how UK will deal with #Russian money laundering in London
Crispin Blunt, the Conservative former chair of the foreign affairs committee, says it will be important to see whose side China takes on this matter. Will the government do what it can to ensure that China sides with the UK on this?
May says she did raise Russia’s conduct on her recent visit to China.
This is from my colleague Patrick Wintour.
Waiting to see if @EmmanuelMacron reviews his Spring visit to Moscow and to the annual St Petersburg show-piece investment conference where he will lead a large French business delegation. France is the conference partner. Details here. https://t.co/xgCxaOwaJr
Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville Roberts asks if the UK is still exporting nuclear material to Russia.
May says today she has been talking about chemical weapons.
Labour’s Chris Bryant says the Russian ambassador to the UK has lied to the Commons, tried to stop Russia being debated, and tried to interfere in Commons elections (to select committees, presumably). Shouldn’t he be kicked out?
May says interfering with the Commons would be unacceptable. But anyone who tried to tell the Speaker what to do would not get very far, she says.
And here is the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Landale on the diplomat expulsions.
Thoughts on @theresa_may statement: expulsion of 23 Russian spooks dramatic & explicit; crackdown on other Russian activity & individuals in UK more opaque & less public; blames Putin personally by name. Nothing on RT.
The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw says “most of us on these benches” (ie, Labour MPs) fully support what she has announced. The measures could have come sooner, he says.
Here is the BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera on the expulsions.
There have been larger expulsions in terms of numbers such as 1971 when 90 diplomats (+15 other officials) kicked out.But the embassy was much larger then. Now there are only 58 diplomats on the list so targeting 23 is roughly 40% – all said to be undeclared intelligence officers
Here is my colleague Andrew Roth, the Guardian’s Moscow correspondent, on May’s statement.
Don’t think this will impress Moscow much. Based on experience they’ll kick out 23+ British diplomats (or limit their total number), shrug at the royals and ministers missing the World Cup, and wait to see if any Russian money actually gets seized. https://t.co/u3L18SGC4F
The Russian embassy in London has issued its response to May. In a statement it said:
On 14 of March Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko was summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where he was informed that 23 diplomats were declared personae non gratae.
We consider this hostile action as totally unacceptable, unjustified and shortsighted.
The DUP MP Sammy Wilson praises May for her statement, saying it contrasts with the “appeasement” offered by the Labour front bench.
Epic eyeroll from Corbyn as the DUP’s Sammy Wilson describes his response to May as “a policy of appeasement”.
Here is a very lightly abridged version of Theresa May’s statement, with headlines inserted to make it easier to read.
On Russia’s response to what she said on Monday
Mr Speaker, it was right to offer Russia the opportunity to provide an explanation. But their response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events.
They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent.
This morning I chaired a further meeting of the national security council, where we agreed:
• Immediate actions to dismantle the Russian espionage network in the UK.
Mr Speaker, the house will recall that following the murder of Mr Litvinenko, the UK expelled four diplomats.
Under the Vienna convention, the United Kingdom will now expel 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers.
Second, we will urgently develop proposals for new legislative powers to harden our defences against all forms of hostile state activity.
This will include the addition of a targeted power to detain those suspected of hostile state activity at the UK border. This power is currently only permitted in relation to those suspected of terrorism.
Mr Speaker, we will also make full use of existing powers to enhance our efforts to monitor and track the intentions of those travelling to the UK who could be engaged in activity that threatens the security of the UK and of our allies.
So we will increase checks on private flights, customs and freight. We will freeze Russian state assets wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents.
As I said on Monday, we have had a very simple approach to Russia: engage but beware.
And I continue to believe it is not in our national interest to break off all dialogue between the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation.
Finally, Mr Speaker, we will deploy a range of tools from across the full breadth of our national security apparatus in order to counter the threats of hostile state activity.
While I have set out some of those measures today, Members on all sides will understand that there are some that cannot be shared publicly for reasons of national security.
We have no disagreement with the people of Russia who have been responsible for so many great achievements throughout their history.
Many of us looked at a post-Soviet Russia with hope. We wanted a better relationship and it is tragic that President Putin has chosen to act in this way.
In the last 24 hours I have spoken to President Trump, Chancellor Merkel and President Macron.
We have agreed to cooperate closely in responding to this barbaric act and to coordinate our efforts to stand up for the rules based international order which Russia seeks to undermine.
Mr Speaker, this was not just an act of attempted murder in Salisbury – nor just an act against UK.
It is an affront to the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper says that what Russia did must be met with “unequivocal condemnation”. That generates loud cheering from MPs, who take it is a dig at Corbyn.
May welcomes Cooper’s comment and says she knows that Cooper’s views are shared by many Labour MPs.
May is responding to Corbyn.
She says she is glad there is consensus in the Commons.
It is clear from the conversations I have had with allies that we have a consensus with our allies, it was clear from the remarks that were made by backbenchers across the whole of this House on Monday that there is a consensus across the backbenches of this House.
I am only sorry that the consensus does not go as far as the right honourable gentleman who could have taken the opportunity – as the UK government has done – to condemn the culpability of the Russian state.
Jeremy Corbyn is now responding.
He says the use of nerve agents is abominable.
May is now turning to diplomatic relations.
May sets out the government’s retaliatory measures.
May says she told MPs on Monday about how Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with novichok, a Russian nerve agent.
She says it was right to offer Russia the chance to resond.
Theresa May starts her Russia statement by paying tribute to the emergency services and the work they have done in Salisbury.
And she praises the fortitude of the people of Salisbury.
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, used his questions to ask about devolution and the EU withdrawal bill. He started by asking:
Can the prime minister tell the house why these amendments [new ones tabled by the government] have been forced on the devolved administrations.
In one sentence he says he was ‘waiting for this amendment’ and then we do publish he complains we’ve published it – he really needs to get his story straight.
It was about agreement – and I’m afraid that answer simply wasn’t good enough. The prime minister famously claimed the UK was made up of equal partners. What an irony now she’s overseeing the demolition of the devolution settlement. They’re happy to systematically destroy the settlement.
I call upon the prime minister once again: stop this attack on devolution and redouble your efforts in working with the devolved administrations in finding agreement.
We have given more powers, including of course, the tax-raising powers, it’s just a pity the SNP have chosen to use the tax-raising powers to increase taxes on people earning £26,000 or more.
Labour’s Catherine West says there have been five high-profile gun crimes in Haringey since Christmas. Will May have a meeting to discuss this?
May says West should meet Amber Rudd, the home secretary, who is due to publish a new strategy on this.
Labour’s Jo Platt says a recent IFS report said more than 30% of children will be in poverty by 2022. What went wrong?
May says there are more than 200,000 fewer children in absolute poverty.
Lucy Allan, a Conservative, says there have been shocking cases of child exploitation in Telford. Will May congratulate those who brought this to public attention?
May says the Telford revelations have been shocking. This is not the first example across the country. Allan will be meeting a Home Office minister to discuss this.
Labour’s Vernon Coaker says 2,120 children have been identified as possible victims of child slavery. We do not know what happens to them. That is not good enough.
May says this is an important issue. She says sometimes vulnerable children are taken away by traffickers. She says unaccompanied children who do not qualify for asylum are not returned to their countries unless they will be safe.
PMQs – snap verdict: Job well done for Corbyn. The NHS is the government’s biggest vulnerability (among many), there is a growing consensus (including much of the cabinet, reportedly) that it needs extra funding, and it’s a Labour issue. Corbyn should be able to win easily here, and he did.
His first question was very, very effective, and May’s briefing team let her down badly by not giving her anything to say about the case of Albert Thompson. (They should read the Guardian more often, as, in fact, should everyone.) And Corbyn’s final question, quoting Stephen Hawking was a classic PMQs zinger, because May could not answer it at all (which is why she did not really try).
Corbyn says May should not be scaremongering about Wales when the targets have been abandoned in England.
People’s lives are at stake. Is May saying doctors and health unions are wrong, and only she knows best?
Corbyn says Georgina’s case was resolved after he raised it in the Commons, so he did not need to write to May.
February was the worst month for A&E performance, he says. He quotes a doctor saying the NHS needs the right long-term settlement. So why didn’t it get extra money yesterday?
Corbyn says he is talking about someone who has been in this country 44 years. His case may not be the only one like this.
He mentions a letter from someone facing a long wait for cancer treatment.
Jeremy Corbyn starts by condemning the vile messages sent to Muslim MPs, and the rise in Islamophobia. It has to be condemned by everyone, he says.
He backs what May said about Stephen Hawking. He helped us understand the universe. He was also a passionate compaigner for the NHS. He backed universal healthcare.
May says the government stands by the commitments it made in December on Northern Ireland in the joint report.
Vicky Foxcroft, the Labour MP, asks about the youth violence commission. This is a a complex issue. But some measures could be taken now, like ensuring knives in shops have to be locked away.
May says the government has reached a voluntary agreement with retailers on this. But it is an area of concern.
Theresa May starts by offering condolences to the family and friends of Stephen Hawking. His contributions to science speak for themselves. He inspired people across the world.
And she condemns the sending of suspicious packages to some Muslim MPs. An investigation is under way, she says.
PMQs is about to start.
A heads-up on some of the backbenchers who will be asking a #pmqs to the PM on Wednesday 14 March
This is from the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.
Don’t expect many surprises from PM’s statement but scale of response will matter v much – so likely expulsions of Russian diplomats and moves to tighten up financial regimes too – not nec Magnitsky act in this case
Sky’s Alistair Bunkall says Theresa May will announce the expulsion of a “significant” number of diplomats – but not as many as in 1971, when 90 Russians were expelled and another 15 were told they could not return to the UK.
Breaking: The PM will announce the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the UK. Not as many as in 1971 but “significant” I’m told.
The Foreign Office says the UK has called for an urgent meeting of the UN security council to discuss the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
The UK has called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to update Council members on the investigation into the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. pic.twitter.com/jFQ2HA4JV0
The use of a nerve agent in Salisbury follows a well-established pattern of Russian state aggression pic.twitter.com/eY4Vy1pw9t
The BBC’s Steve Rosenberg has a good guide to what the Russian papers are saying about Theresa May’s threat to take retaliatory measures against Moscow. They sound as gung-ho as some of our papers …
As Moscow rejects Britain’s ultimatum over the Skripal poisoning, one Russian paper today says this on UK-Russian ties: “The die is cast, the rubicon crossed.” Suggesting the gloves are off, it adds: “Anything that causes pain to the ‘partner’ is now allowed.” pic.twitter.com/hd3r55eE78
The Russian ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, has been tweeting this morning – but about Stephen Hawking, not Sergei Skripal.
Donald Tusk, the European council president, has expressed his support for the UK in its stance against Russia. He said EU leaders may discuss the issue at their summit next week.
For real friends, this should be obvious: At a time of fake news spreading, meddling in our elections, and attacks on people on our soil with nerve agent, the response must not be transatlantic bickering but transatlantic unity.
The government has now published its integrated communities strategy green paper (pdf). My colleague Anushka Asthana previewed this in a story overnight.
There has been a cut to the funding of English-language classes over the last decade, I don’t think that was necessarily always going to the right people in communities but it has taken a hit.
It’s really, really important as a nation we are all able to speak a common language, and that language is English.
UK in a Changing Europe, an academic project studying Brexit, has published a paper today (pdf) about the impact that Brexit will have on the NHS. In a word, it’s negative.
Here is an excerpt from the conclusion to the 21-page report.
The impact of Brexit on the NHS and public policy will hinge on a number of factors. Clearly, the state of the UK government’s finances will be crucial in determining future health provision. In common with the broad consensus among independent economists, and the official forecasts produced by the OBR, our analysis does not foresee any dividend for the NHS from the UK leaving the EU.
On the contrary, there are likely to be further pressures on public-service funding more broadly from a hit to economic growth caused by Brexit. This will mean tough choices for the government. It could decide to increase healthcare funding, but this will have to come from raising taxes, borrowing or diverting funds from other priorities.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies has released its analysis of the spring statement. Paul Johnson, the IFS’s director, was scathing, telling journalists that “dismal” growth has become the new normal. He said:
We have had the worst decade of growth since at least the last War. The economy is at least £300 billion smaller than we might have expected based on 2008 forecasts. Yet we are now supposed to be at capacity, with no potential to make up for any of that loss.
What’s more, growth projections remain very subdued. At no point in the next five years does the OBR believe that annual growth will exceed 1.5%. To put an even less positive gloss on the numbers, growth in GDP per capita is forecast to be less than 1% in each of the next five years, half the pre-crisis trend.
And here is the Associated Press report on what the Kremlin is saying about Theresa May’s ultimatum this morning.
The Kremlin says Russia rejects the deadline that Britain gave it to explain any involvement in the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in critical condition in hospital after being exposed to a military-grade nerve agent in the city of Salisbury last week.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said this morning that no progress had been made towards resolving a standoff with Britain over the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, Reuters reports. The Reuters story goes on:
Britain’s accusations that Russia was likely to blame for poisoning Skripal were neither robust nor serious, Lavrov said, describing them instead as a political performance intended to mislead the international community, something which he said Russia will not permit.
Britain has not sent an official request for information about the nerve agent involved in the attack, the minister said. Moscow had insisted London submit such a request.
NEW: Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov no progress with Britain over Skripal and says UK staging a “political performance”
Julian Braithwaite, the UK’s ambassador to the human rights council in Geneva, has posted video of his statement this morning to the council condemning Russia. (See 10.14am.)
Russia is systematically & recklessly violating the rules based international order, & with it human rights from Ukraine, Georgia, Syria, in cyberspace & beyond.
On the Today programme Robert Hannigan, the former director of GCHQ, said the UK should retaliate against Russia but it should not launch a cyberwar. That would be counter-productive, he argued in his interview. Here are the main points.
Everybody is looking around for something dramatic to do. But starting a cyber conflict – which of course we could do, we could do destructive things in cyberspace, we have great capabilities – would then put us in the wrong place. We are part of the family of civilised nations …
At the very destructive end of course you could do great damage to anything that is networked. But I don’t think we should be going there, because that would play to the Russian narrative. We are not outside the international rules of civilised nations and we don’t want to be. We play by the rules that most countries do.
This is part of a pattern where a modern nation has chosen to step outside the rules that govern behaviour of civilised countries. And we’ve seen that in cyberspace, we’ve seen that on the ground, in Ukraine, and now we are seeing it in an incredible way with banned nerve agents being used on the streets of a European city. So it is part of a pattern.
The response should be to contain and to show Russia what the consequences of choosing to be a rogue nation outside of those civilised rules are. And I think there are obvious things, like the expulsion of diplomats on a scale we probably haven’t seen since the cold war that will inevitably happen, because there will be a further freezing out of Russia.
But more importantly, I think, will be hitting the economic targets, particularly those individuals and their assets that are reliant on London and like to do business in London. There is a lot of unexplained wealth and I think there’s a huge amount of mileage in the unexplained wealth orders that Tom Tugendhat [the Conservative chair of the foreign affairs committee] and others have suggested. I think that’s the way to show Russia that there are consequences.
These overseas adventures are his way of wrapping himself in a nationalist flag. We shouldn’t play to that narrative.
Britain told the UN human rights council in Geneva that the use of a military-grade nerve agent used in an attempt to kill a former Russian spy was a flagrant breach of international law and should serve as a warning to the international community, Reuters reports. Julian Braithwaite, the UK’s ambassador to the body, told the forum:
The council and the United Nations general assembly have decried Russia’s violations of international law with alarming regularity. Its reckless behaviour is an affront to all this body stands for.
Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones, the Scottish and Welsh first ministers, will table proposals to end months of deadlock over Brexit when they meet the prime minister this afternoon.
Theresa May is hosting a summit at Downing Street with the two devolved governments and officials from Northern Ireland, to discuss a complex and controversial deal on redistributing powers around the UK after it leaves the EU.
At today’s meeting we and our Welsh colleagues will take the opportunity to set out what changes are required to secure our consent.
While we remain determined to continue discussions on this issue, it is time for the UK government to show respect for devolution and accept that no changes can be made to Scotland’s devolved powers without the consent of the Scottish parliament.
This is from the BBC’s Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg.
I just asked Kremlin spokesman Peskov: what response if UK government takes action against RT? “Any illegal action against Russian media outlets in UK will lead to retaliation. What steps? Those that will be in best interests of Russia.”
Ofcom has an ongoing duty to be satisfied that all broadcast licensees are fit and proper to hold a licence.
We have heard the Prime Minister’s statement in the House of Commons this afternoon and we await her further statement on Wednesday. We will then consider the implications for RT’s broadcast licences.
As the independent UK broadcasting regulator, Ofcom has an ongoing duty to be satisfied that broadcast licensees remain fit and proper to hold their licences.
We have today written to ANO TV Novosti, holder of RT’s UK broadcast licences, which is financed from the budget of the Russian Federation. This letter explained that, should the UK investigating authorities determine that there was an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the UK, we would consider this relevant to our ongoing duty to be satisfied that RT is fit and proper.
On Monday Theresa May said that it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible for the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury and that, if Moscow did not provide an explanation, she would announce how the UK would retaliate. The Kremlin has ignored the ultimatum and responded with scorn, and so today May will tell MPs what will happen next.
Here is our overnight preview story.
1/7 UK Ambassador Laurence Bristow was summoned to @MFA_Russia, where First Deputy FM Vladimir Titov strongly protested the evidence-free accusations by the UK authorities of Russia’s alleged involvement in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. pic.twitter.com/wQvl2AwLJI
2/7 It was stated that the actions of the UK authorities are a clear provocation and that the Russian Federation was not involved in the incident that took place in Salisbury on 4 March, 2018. pic.twitter.com/WppmgfgO6L
3/7 Moscow will not respond to London’s ultimatum until it receives samples of the chemical substance to which the UK investigators are referring. pic.twitter.com/B5CNtimcc3
4/7 Britain must comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention which stipulates joint investigation into the incident, for which Moscow is ready. pic.twitter.com/8TxEBOpBQ8
5/7 Without that, there can be no sense in any statements from London. The incident appears to be yet another crooked attempt by the UK authorities to discredit Russia. pic.twitter.com/VLk6UCePVj
6/7 Any threat to take “punitive” measures against Russia will meet with a response. The British side should be aware of that. pic.twitter.com/DFAaB5orQE
7/7 Today the Embassy sent a note to @ForeignOffice reiterating that Russia is not involved in the Salisbury incident and outlining the above mentioned demands for joint investigation pic.twitter.com/Vj5mxFBpfA
Link : UK expels 23 Russian diplomats over spy poisoning – Politics live